[Update: We've updated the article with official estimates for TRON: Legacy's opening weekend haul.]
Earlier this week we had the opportunity to speak with some of the creative team behind TRON: Legacy at the Hollywood Red (actually blue) Carpet premiere of the film.
One of the biggest topics of conversations was the pressure that producers must have been feeling as they approached the opening weekend for the film.
We spoke with Justin Springer, one of the original producers on the film, and asked him about the stress involved in releasing a movie of this scale. He was somewhat reluctant to go into detail about financial and box office conversations - that are likely happening behind closed doors. He did say he "couldn't say no," and that there was indeed some pressure, but that he was mostly "excited" to share the film and see what people think.
Springer was a part of the team that originally pitched a Tron sequel to Disney - at the time he was working at a production company with Sean Bailey, who is now the president of production at Disney. TRON: Legacy represents the first film that Disney will release under Bailey's stewardship (that he is a direct producer on).
Aside from the expectations that Bailey and his team are personally facing, TRON: Legacy is also one of the most ambitious films Disney has ever produced. As we mentioned in our interview with director Joseph Kosinski, there is a virtual army of people waiting to see how this film performs. There are teams at effects and design houses anxiously awaiting a green-light for Tron 3 - in addition to the wealth of merchandising campaigns that are set to be unleashed for the Tron franchise.
When asked about plans for Tron 3, nearly every member of the Tron team gives the same answer - they would love to revisit the world - but everything is contingent on the success of this film.
TRON: Legacy needs to make a sizable profit in order to justify a third installation. However, it is challenging to say what the margins are, because the production budget has been estimated in a range as wide as $150 million to $300 million.
The New York Times reported a $170 budget for the film; though, it is likely the figure does not include marketing costs.
One of the most interesting aspects of TRON: Legacy is the marketing campaign that has surrounded the film. Springer spoke to us about the fan response, both at Comic-Con and online, to the test footage they shot for the film three years ago. An overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception to the footage essentially greenlit the film. Springer said it was "amazing because they had been trying for so long" to get the film off the ground, but when executives saw how much excitement surrounded the release of the two-minute teaser they decided "there is a reason for this movie to be."
What happened as a result of that response was an (in many ways brilliant) marketing campaign that was targeting directly at that same audience. One potential consequence of the campaign might have been that a narrow group of people, that were already on board with the film, had three years of build up and expectations that would be almost impossible for any film to live up to - and the general moviegoing audience had very limited exposure to the film.
Of course, the marketing campaign has cast a bigger net over the last few weeks - in the hopes of drawing in a broader audience.
So how is TRON: Legacy doing this weekend? [Now with updated box office totals]
Actually, a bit better than was recently expected. Last week there were very soft projections for the opening weekend box office, around $35 million. It was assumed that the film would need to make at least $50 million this weekend in order to comfortably move forward.
TRON: Legacy debuted with $3.6 million at opening midnight shows, a figure that beats both Avatar and Inception's takes for midnight releases. By Friday night, the film had made an estimated $18 million dollars, and is now expected to add another $25.6 million as a result of Saturday and Sunday ticket sales, for a total weekend haul of $43.6 million - splitting the different between the low projections and the studio's $50 million hopes.
Legacy has received a mixed critical response, you can read our own Vic Holtreman's review HERE. But critics lukewarm reception might have less of an impact - in the face of widespread audience buzz.
If the film can do well enough in the long run, an entire multi-media/cross platform franchise is primed to come to life. In terms of the plans for a continuation of the film series, people are already speculating on potential story arcs and character development.
POTENTIAL CAMEO SPOILER
We also asked both Springer and Kosinki about a return of the Cillian Murphy character that was briefly introduced in the opening of Legacy. Neither confirmed nor denied his role as a potential villain in Tron 3; Kosinski said his story thread would be "an interesting one to explore", while Springer said simply "that would be cool."
As to the "Blue" Carpet Premiere, we can unequivocally state that Disney knows how to throw a party. Daft Punk pumped through Hollywood Blvd, "Sirens" walked a carpet that was filled with an elecTRONic atmosphere, a "real life" Light Cycle was on display, reporters (like myself) were given the "Tron" makeover - which included fake eyelashes, and a short black Quorra like wig, and a lucky few were even given an identity disk and challenged to participate in disc wars.
A few more interview highlights:
Original Tron creator/producer Steven Lisberger gave us the skinny on what he thinks the digital age really means (a generation of ever-children) and examples of real world "programs" and "users."
It was fascinating to speak with Neville Page, the lead concept artist on TRON: Legacy and Avatar and the creature designer for Green Lantern about the process that was used in the creation of these truly innovative costumes, a process that is, as he says, almost more Sci-Fi than the movie itself - they literally "grew" the helmets.
We also got the chance to speak with writers Adam Horowiz and Edward Kitsis (Lost) about their hopes for the film, and how they approach the writing process -- we also got them to say, definitively, that the Island was never purgatory ;).
Finally "Blue" carpet participants tell us what they love most about TRON: Legacy - the topics of the night were Jeff Bridges - followed closely by Light Cycle.
Take a look at our footage from the event below:
The next few weeks will be a very telling time for Disney and the film industry at large; in some ways, TRON: Legacy is a massive bet that was placed based on the enthusiasm of a small portion of the population - it will be revealing to see if that bet pays off.
Did you see TRON: Legacy this weekend? What did you think of the film?
Box Office Source: Rope Of Silicon